Guidelines for smart factories launched

Manufacturers can use data to upgrade to Industry 4.0 norms

A new set of guidelines has been launched to help manufacturers build smart factories of the future and take advantage of the Fourth Industrial Revolution – also known as Industry 4.0.

The Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB), in partnership with German manufacturer TUV SUD, has launched the Singapore Smart Industry Readiness Index.

The index serves as a diagnostic tool that companies across all industries and sizes can use to learn about Industry 4.0, evaluate the state of their facilities and develop a transformation road map.

Industry 4.0 refers to the trend of automation and data exchange in manufacturing technologies. This creates what is called a “smart factory”, where skilled staff work seamlessly alongside robots.

“The index gives clear orientation to manufacturers on what Industry 4.0 means and how they can initiate their transformation journey,” said Dr Axel Stepken, the chairman of the board of management at TUV SUD. “It has the potential to be the global standard for the future of manufacturing.”

The index provides an assessment matrix across 16 dimensions, which companies can use to evaluate their processes, systems and structures. It also provides a stepby- step improvement guide.

The index has been piloted with a number of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and multinational corporations in Singapore.

EDB assistant managing director Lim Kok Kiang said: “Many companies often put technology first. With this index, we put people and processes alongside technology so that companies can maximise the potential of Industry 4.0.”

Many manufacturing companies are still unfamiliar with Industry 4.0, said Mr Desmond Goh, director of food manufacturing firm People Bee Hoon. The company, which has about 40 staff here, was among the firms which piloted the index.

“We realised Industry 4.0 is about much more than just automation,” Mr Goh said. “It also involves making use of data collected so we can react more quickly and plan our strategies. For instance, technology now allows us to use data to predict when a machine needs to be maintained, or track in real time which products are in higher demand.

“The good thing is that it makes clear what the incremental steps are, which is helpful for smaller companies. When you’re ready, then you can move on to the next stage.”

Mr Amos Leong, president and chief executive of precision engineering firm Univac, agreed that this incremental, “bottom-up” approach is more realistic for SMEs compared with major overhauls.

“Many small companies have similar constraints – not limited to budgetary issues. Many don’t even have the mindshare to understand what Industry 4.0 is,” he said.

“Many SMEs like us have lots of old equipment and machines from different brands. We are not ready to replace all the old assets. This means we have to work with what we have, go from the bottom up.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 14, 2017, with the headline 'Guidelines for smart factories launched'. Subscribe